Photos: Camelia Ting
Video: Vanessa Lim
“It was easier writing about my childhood than my early years as an artiste because I suffered quite a number of shocks when I was young; everything is imprinted clearly in my mind and I’ve never forgotten any of it,” Mediacorp artiste Chew Chor Meng shared.
Speaking to Toggle at his book launch, Stages of Life, the 47-year-old let us in on his battered past. “My dad was an alcoholic before he passed away. He’d hit my mother and I, also threatening to kill us,” he recollected. “He’d tell us that he would kill us first then commit suicide after.”
Stages of Life, which is written in both English and Chinese, chronicles his journey from when he was 5 till now. The labour of love took around two years to complete and is a fitting way to commemorate his 25th year in showbiz. He has also given 300 copies of his book to Focus on the Family, with all proceeds from the sale going to the local charity.
“We didn’t have a fixed living arrangement because we were worried that he’d follow through with his threat – we’d stay at a temple or at my aunt’s place,” the 118 actor continued. “After sobering up, he would have no recollection of what he did or said when he was drunk; he became a different person once he was intoxicated.”
Despite the turbulent times he had to live through as a child, the actor harbours no ill feelings towards his father. “I’ve never been afraid or hated him – I don’t have any particular feelings towards him,” he mused. “Nobody knew that he had committed suicide until a few days later, when a neighbour called the temple we were staying at to tell my mom that he didn’t come home the day before.”
“I happened to come across a piece in the newspaper that described a male who had jumped off a building – it matched my dad so we went to the (mortuary) to identify the body. I didn’t cry when he was placed into his coffin (and I can remember that) he was still bleeding from the eyes,” Chor Meng shared. “He never apologised to us – he passed away before he could ever do so.”
Apart from his childhood memories, Chor Meng had another difficult part of his life he spoke of in his new book. Diagnosed with Kennedy’s Disease after noticing that his health was deteriorating from 2004, he struggled with the motor neuron illness that leads to muscle cramps and progressive weakness in his body.
He made his condition known at a church event in 2008 and has since taken things in stride. He was given three years to live when he was first diagnosed but Chor Meng was unwilling to accept the doctor’s words and bravely fought the battle with his body – and won. While he is not as nimble as before, he does not require a walking stick and is still able to climb the stairs.
Chor Meng’s source of strength, apart from his faith, also comes from his young daughters Chloe, 14, and Cheyenne, 12. After discovering his condition, they have frequently made breakfast for him and would sometimes say “Daddy, take care” or “Love you”, giving him the courage to fight on.
Stages of Life is available at all major bookstores and retails at S$15.90. The book is also available at www.giving.sg/chewchormeng, from which all proceeds will be donated to Focus on the Family. Chew Chor Meng will have book-signing events at the Times Bookshop on Jan 23 (Sat), 2pm and at Ngee Ann City’s Kinokuniya Feb 20 (Sat), 2pm.
Catch Chor Meng in Happy Goh Family, which debuts on Feb 16, 8.30pm on Channel 8 and Lucky Boy, which is scheduled to open in theatres in the second half of 2016.
Watch past episodes of 118 on Toggle.